Most visitors to Rome are surprised to find that authentic ancient Egyptian artifacts are scattered all over the city, and have been here for centuries! What are they doing here?
At various points in their history, the ancient Romans regarded all things Egypt much like Americans view items made in France. Just as it can be trendy to eat brie or wear a beret, the Romans thought it was pretty cool to worship Osiris or Isis.
That’s why a temple to the goddess Isis used to be located right around the corner from the Pantheon, smack in the center of Rome. This beautiful piece of carved basalt once formed part of a water clock in that temple, and it dates from the 3rd century B.C. Today, it can be found not far away–in a lovely little museum with free admission! (We can tell you how to get there.)
But already in the Middle Ages, Romans were getting confused about their history: in the 1200’s, a church was built on the ruins of the temple, which was wrongly believed to have been dedicated to the goddess Minerva. Minerva did in fact have a temple in the neighborhood… but it was further down the road. To this day, this church is known as Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, or “on top of Minerva,” referencing the ancient remains underneath. That’s why a Catholic church has the name of a pagan Roman goddess incorporated into its name, and it’s located atop the ruins of an Egyptian temple–in Rome.
Did you follow all that?